NEW ORLEANS -- News reports about the Superdome Commission's discussion about the future of the Bayou Classic spread quickly.
Wednesday, Commissioner Robert Bruno asked if dropping Grambling State University from the annual football matchup with Southern University would help prop up sagging attendance at the Thanksgiving Saturday event.
"Before it gets so bad that you've got 10,000 people there and State Farm doesn't want to be involved in it and it becomes nothing, maybe you ought to think about maybe either you earn your way in through something else, bring another school in that's willing to guarantee a certain number of tickets sales or whatever," Bruno said.
"We have seen a drop in the attendance and we would love to try and see it get back to where it was in the beginning, 65,000, 70,000 people attending here instead of 35,000 to 40,000," said Superdome/SMG VP Doug Thornton.
Former Grambling quarterback Ricardo Malbrew said the Bayou Classic is not about money or ticket sales. He said it's a home grown, in-state rivalry between two historic universities, and to replace GSU because of two bad seasons in a row is an insult to the legendary Eddie Robinson, one of college football's winningest coaches.
"Never did you hear Coach Eddie Robinson say during Southern's down years, Southern is not good enough for us to play," said Malbrew. "That never happened. Don't disrespect the legend that has been built. Don't disrespect these players that have gone through this game."
Superdome managers are now clarifying their earlier statements about Grambling's future in the classic.
"Commissioner Bruno essentially was saying, guys lets refocus our attention on the Bayou Classic and lets dedicate our resources to do everything we possibly can to make this event successful," said Superdome GM Alan Freeman.
He also said the classic is truly one of the great traditions in college football.
"There's never, ever been any consideration of changing the match-up for this game," said Freeman. "As a matter of fact, you would be crazy to so because over the 40-year history, they're 20-20."
"It's not a lack of interest," said Malbrew. "If that was the case, NBC would not have renewed this tradition for several more years."
Gambling Sate University President Frank Pogue released a statement about the future of the Bayou Classic.
"We know that nearly everyone is passionate about the Bayou Classic, and that includes Grambling State alums as well as people who enjoy the rivalry and all that takes place on and off the field each fall," he said. “This is a fierce, competitive rivalry in terms of football but it is nothing short of a good, strong marriage between two world-class institutions when it comes to putting on a tremendous week of activities and events on and off the field.”
Pogue also said, “There is no discussion to change this historic matchup, and there are no plans to change this annual challenge in any way.”
Bayou Classic representatives are now expected to address the Superdome Commission at its July public meeting.